“Oh, it’s Book Ballots! Quick. She’s going to start the timer! You read the blurb for Artemis Fowl and I’ll read Al Capone. Then we’ll talk and figure out what to vote for.”
That is not a bad conversation to overhear as the students file back in from lunch. Book Ballots is one of those strategies that takes just a few minutes, focuses students’ minds on books instead of lunch and recess, and gives you a wealth of knowledge about your readers. This is a great strategy for “Getting to Know Your Readers”, one of our 10 themes for building a more literate classroom. It also helps you “Sell Books” and “Connect Readers”. I love it when a strategy meets several goals! Here’s how it works.
This is what students see as they file into the classroom after recess.
- This makes a great transition. While the kids are at lunch, grab two books that you think will appeal to most of your readers. Set them on the chalk tray and draw a t-chart with the question, “Which book do you prefer?” Boom! You’re done prepping!
- As the kids file into the classroom, have them gather around the chalk tray. Set a timer for 5 minutes. (The first time you do the strategy, don’t set the timer because you will explain as you go along. But after that, limit this to 5 minutes.)
- Tell the kids they need to vote for which book they would prefer to read. They have to vote, and they can’t put their name in the middle. They have to commit to one book or the other. Students will start buzzing about the books and you’ll start listening.
- Here’s where you get to know your readers. In a short few minutes, you are going to get answers to questions like:
- Which readers have a definite preference right away.
- Who makes book decisions based on the cover.
- Who grabs the book and makes a more thoughtful decision based on the blurb or reading a sample of the book.
- Which genres students in your classroom gravitate towards.
- Who chooses books based on what their friends are reading.
- Which students have no idea how to choose a book and hang back.
- You will get answers to those questions by observing your students. With such a short time to choose, they will have to rely on their go-to strategy. Over time, students will learn strategies for choosing books by watching each other. You will see new students reaching to grab the book, and knots of students gathered around, listening while one student reads the blurbs. You’ll hear quick comparisons between the books, and notice that students start to pay attention to author and genre as a strategy for choosing books.
- As you can see in the photo, I have magnets with my students’ names on them that I use for this strategy. The magnets are also used for attendance and lunch count in the morning, so they do double duty! If you don’t have magnets, you could also have your students write their names on sticky notes or on the whiteboard. You could even just have them line up on the side of the room next to the book they prefer.
- When the timer goes off (and I have to admit, if the conversation is awesome, I have been guilty of pausing the timer on my phone. 🙂 ) I make sure every student has voted. Then, I “randomly” choose one student for each book and ask, “Would you like to read this book, or gift this book?” My students understand that “gifting” a book means they pass the book to another student who reads it and then has the responsibility of returning it to the Book Nook.
This simple strategy accomplishes a lot in a few short minutes. Two students walk away with a new book to read during Independent Reading time. Other students walk away with a book to add to their Wish List. You walk away with knowledge about your readers that helps you choose read alouds, match books to kids for Guided Reading/Book Clubs, purchase must have books for your Book Nook, and help kids find great books for Independent Reading. It really is an easy way to Get To Know Your Readers.
I use this strategy several times a week during the first month or two of school. As we get into the school year, I taper off and bring in other strategies (more on that in future blog and video posts!) By the winter time, I probably use this strategy once every week or even once every two weeks. It’s a good strategy to bring back if:
- You’ve gotten some new students in your class and you want to know how they think about books.
- There are books in your Classroom Library that you think your readers will love, and they aren’t finding them.
- You notice some students are not finding books easily and you want to learn why.
For more simple strategies to Get To Know Your Readers, check out these posts:
- Reader’s and Writer’s Surveys
- Reading Conferences
- Quick Reads
And be sure to check out this video which gives you more information on using Book Ballots in your classroom!